SI Review: August 2011

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Power Seller

Prima Donnas No More

Getting your sales stars to work as part of a team

By Kathi Graham-Leviss

Tim, a sales vice president at a large manufacturing company, was frustrated because he wasn’t getting the results he needed from his sales team. While his top performers were great on their own, they seemed incapable of working together to achieve the company’s sales objectives. Further, they were driving Tim crazy with their arrogant, demanding and egotistical ways. As a result, Tim felt like a failure and began to doubt whether he was cut out to be a manager.

Does Tim’s situation strike a chord with you? Do you have people who are star performers on their own, but who also cause constant turmoil and conflict within your team?

Then you probably have a lot of high maintenance high performers — people who are very intense and extremely task-focused. They prefer to operate on their own. These otherwise stellar performers seem to make up their own set of rules, causing resentment among other team members. In short, these individuals are not team players. So no matter how great their skills and experience are, they wreak havoc in your operation and often fail to achieve their full potential because of the mayhem they create around them.

Creating the Team Player

How do you turn top performers into team players? Here are two solutions that have proven successful for other managers, including Tim:

Leaders. Put your high-maintenance, high performers in charge of a team. Being in charge of a team means driving the team goals and being placed in a situation where they can lead and have some control over achieving the results. These top performers don’t necessarily want to be leaders. But as highly goal-oriented people, they will use the position if they see it as a faster, more efficient path to achieving their goals. Their commitment to achieve will also help you drive the other members of the team more quickly to success.

A way to hold top performers accountable for leading the team is to have them report the team’s progress directly to you, their manager. Such updating is best done in regular face-to-face meetings. This will enable you to know where your high-maintenance, high performers are in their strategy and thinking without bogging them down with creating written reports, something that surely they will feel only slows them down.

Structure. Create simple processes and structures so star players have the support they need from their team and other departments. Giving them structure — for example, the goals, the budget, the deadline and the staff to achieve the goals — is important to ensure that they in turn give you the outcomes you need. It is important to set up the structure from the beginning of the working relationship in such a way that they perceive you, their manager, are not telling them what to do.

When you involve your high-maintenance, high-performers in designing the standards up front, you have a greater likelihood of getting their commitment and buy-in. These demanding, top performers are creators and innovators; they’re results-driven, so by involving them in the creation, you have a better chance of getting the needed results.

Phenomenal Results

Tim was skeptical about putting the employees who seemed the most detached from their team in charge, but when he worked with them to define their role, the goals of the team and the expected outcomes, he immediately saw a difference in their interactions with the team. What he had been calling “teams” actually became teams. They worked cohesively, were undivided, and had the same goals.

Once Tim discovered what his top performers really needed and gave it to them, “the results were phenomenal,” he said. By understanding what they need, Tim created an environment for the high-maintenance high-performers that enabled them to realize their goals and operate efficiently. As their boss, he ran interference and removed roadblocks to their success.

Follow Tim’s lead and take time to understand how your top performers behave and make a few minor adjustments to allow them to operate in an environment that supports their best work. You’ll soon find that these individuals can be easy to work with if they are given the right working situation. They will be able to accomplish more, and you’ll reap greater, long-lasting results.

Kathi Graham-Leviss is founder and president of XB Consulting, a talent management company that helps employers optimize employee selection, productivity, and development. She can be reached at kgl@xbconsulting.com.

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